The olive ridley sea turtle is returning in mass to Mexico’s Pacific Coast despite being listed as an “endangered species,” as reported by The Los Angeles Times.
Between July and February, hundreds of thousands of the turtles will arrive on the beaches. While a spectacular natural event on its own, the return is particularly noteworthy because it marks the success of legal protections and a societal shift in views on the sea turtles that have helped return them to prominence.
Previously, the turtle’s eggs were considered a male aphrodisiac, hunted and eaten regularly by locals. But in 1990, a presidential decree made it illegal to capture the sea turtles or collect their eggs anywhere in Mexico. At the time, approximately 120,000 sea turtles arrived on the beaches annually. Last year, that number was 4.6 million, a new record, according to The Los Angeles Times. New attitudes about the turtles have affected public opinion so much that in September when a beach hotel was planning construction on property known to be a popular nesting spot for loggerhead, hawksbill and green sea turtles, environmentalists were able to successfully deny permits for the project, according to the Seattle Times.
“We can see that this species of turtle is on the road to recuperation,” Angel Guillermo Gonzalez Padilla, coordinator of the Mexican environmental agency’s protection efforts, told The Los Angeles Times.
There are still threats, though. Climate change, ocean plastic, pollution and certain fishing tactics endanger the species. Last year, 77 million of the hatchlings made their way to oceans from the beach, but only 1 in 1,000 end up making it to adulthood. The olive ridley typically measures around two feet long in adulthood and can weigh as much as 110 pounds. But while it’s considered the most common species of sea turtle, Mexican authorities still consider it “in threat of extinction.” Reuters reported in August that hundreds of sea turtles had washed up dead on Mexican shores, and one potential cause of death was a poisonous algae bloom caused by warming waters.
“Yes we have succeeded in increasing the number of nesting turtles, but that is not to say that this species is out of danger,” Valeria Towns, who oversees threatened species for Mexico’s National Protected Areas Commission, told The Los Angeles Times.
Still, witnessing millions of the olive ridleys appear on the beaches to nest and lay eggs is bringing environmentalists renewed hope for their future.
Cover image via ENRIQUE CASTRO/AFP/Getty Images.